I guess it was with Iron Man 2 (2010) that we really begin to see the growth of the the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Still, no Infinity Stones in this one. With the first Iron Man, though officially speaking they would say they wanted to create this overarching storyline in which all plots fit for the beginning, I cannot see them thinking that they would pull it off initially. Oh, sure, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) shows up at the end of the first cinematic entry. Still, I could see this as being just a one time show, or brief series, as Marvel had done with so many of its franchises previously. Evidence that this could have been the case can be seen in the business done by Marvel in the decades leading up to 2008. Ever wonder why this had not been done before? Because the comic book company had sold off the movie rights piecemeal to whoever shoved a big enough check in their faces. The comics could get away with these expansive stories because they created and owned every single character. Film executives do not think the same way. This is all a long way of saying is that the MCU that we are just beginning to review could very easily have not been a thing save for the success of Iron Man, and its quite competent sequel.
We pick up the events of Iron Man 2 not long after Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) has revealed to the world that he is in fact the metal suited superhero. Of course, such a revelation is bound to draw attention. More immediately, this means a hearing before Congress where Stark announces that he has successfully privatized world peace. Love that line. For plot purposes, Stark’s emergence also attracts the attention of Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), a Russian scientist whose father had been spurned by Stark’s father on the project that was to give birth to the device that keeps Stark alive and powers his suit. Wanting to get revenge, Vanko teams up with Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), a weapons manufacturer with less scruples than Stark. In the meantime, Stark finds that the machine he implanted in his chest is causing some kind of radiation, which is making his blood toxic. Believing he is dying, he begins to act out in self-destructive ways, which prompts his friend, Lieutenant James “Rhodey” Rhodes (Don Cheadle), to take one of Stark’s prototype suits and assume the mantle of the War Machine. As it turns out, Stark’s newest assistant, Natalie Rushman (Scarlett Johansson), is Strategic Homeland Intervention Enforcement and Logistics Division (SHIELD, sorry, could not resist) agent Natasha Romanoff, also known as Black Widow. She gets Fury to intervene, giving Stark what he needs to eliminate the radiation and give his suits more power. This all comes to a head at an exposition being given by Stark Industries where Vanko hijacks Hammer’s new weapons in his attempt to kill Stark. Together, Iron Man and War Machine take down both Vanko and his robots, and the world is introduced to two new characters who will go on to be Avengers down the road. That is really the point of these films, after all.
Okay, that was a lot to digest. I have never quite understood why people hate on Iron Man 2. Stark is his usual quippy self. His suit looks great, as does the design the filmmakers gave to War Machine. Is the villain weak? Perhaps there was too much of a similarity between Vanko and the suit he came up with for himself and the one given to Obadiah Stone (Jeff Bridges) in the first Iron Man? Yet the motivations for the bad guys in the first and second ones were quite different. Whereas Stone wants some sort of world domination, Vanko simply desires revenge on Stark. Vanko’s quest to get even makes the sequel quaint to this reviewer. There will be plenty of other plots in the MCU that involve not only global conquest, but that of the entire universe. So just take this one as a nice little breather from the rest of the megalomania you will be treated to in the rest of the films in this series.
Let me issue a quick apology here. Tony Stark dies at the end . . . of the MCU. Sorry again, if you are not already aware of this fact. However, in Iron Man 2 Stark is faced with his own mortality for the first time. To be sure, while fighting the forces of evil as the titular hero, death could come at any moment. But ironically enough it is his own genius that is killing him for part of this film. As discussed above, he does not take this news well. The Bible is replete with examples of those who greet their demise as being part of the natural course of things. Those that rage against it, as Job did when everything around him collapsed, tend not to have things go well for them. Stark loses his company and his friends. It is only when he accepts that there are things that even his vast intellect cannot solve that things begin to turn around. In other words, he has to accept help. Our lives are not our own, and making God a collaborator in your life can do wonders. That is a hard thing for the proud to do, thus a big reason why it cometh before the fall.
Iron Man 2 is rated PG-13. There are a few suggestive scenes in it, but nothing that cannot be explained away. Otherwise, the rating is probably the result of some of the more intense action it contains. It is perhaps not a family film, but it is not traumatizing in any way if your young one happens to view it. And there are definitely some genuinely heroic moments, not to mention a son reconnecting with his deceased father, that make it a solid film all around.